The dropping temperatures remind us of cooler days that are sure to come, prompting us to look for ways to add visual warmth to our interiors. One sure -- and infinitely varied -- way is with handmade quilts.
A quilt on the bed, draped across the couch or hung on a wall are familiar uses for this textile art, but there are other ways to incorporate the beauty of quilts in your decor.
"Quilted fabrics can be used to make curtains for windows, shower curtains, slipcovers, duvet covers and bed skirts," says Wilma Cogliantry, who, with her husband, Jim, owns Christian Lane Quilts in Berlin, Conn. "We've quilted fabric for customers and designers who use it to make drapery panels, sunblocks, custom boat interiors and wind screens." One design company purchased lightly quilted fabric from her to "wallpaper" a Victorian-style home in Colorado.
Carolyn Johnson, who has had a quilting business at her 18th Century Portland, Conn., farm for nearly 30 years, says she's made so many quilts that "storage is a problem." She has a handmade table runner on her kitchen table, a quilt hanging over the sofa in her kitchen area, as well as "cuddle-up" quilts on chairs, quilted pillows, quilts on old-fashioned folding racks and quilts hung around her studio.
"I like having my work around me," says Johnson, who teaches classes and sells fabric in her shop, Carolyn's Quilting Bee.
Johnson hangs quilts by sewing a sleeve onto the back of the finished quilt, then inserts a dowel and the dowel hangs from brads inserted into the wall. "This spreads the weight of the quilt along the wall," she says. "I hate to see [quilts] put up with pushpins."
Marilyn Gattinella, owner of the Close to Home shop in Glastonbury, Conn., teaches a class in which students machine-sew a quilt top that can then be finished into a shower curtain, tablecloth, bed quilt or even a jacket. Machine- or hand-quilted fabrics can be used as table toppers or attractively folded and displayed in an armoire.
Gattinella says that even a quilt that's beyond repair might have a section or sections that can be framed or made into a garment or pillows.
Quilt shop owners agree that taking apart an old quilt, or even finishing an old quilt that might have been started decades or longer ago, should not be done without expert advice. All recommend having the quilt examined and, if it appears of real antiquity, appraised.
Wilma Cogliantry recalls that she once intervened -- "I just had to!" -- at a dry cleaner when she saw a man dropping off an 80-year-old quilt for dry cleaning. A century ago, fabrics were made colorfast with compounds, including sulphur, that could react badly with modern dry-cleaning chemicals.
As hobbyist and professional quilters know, many magazines are devoted to the art of quilt-making. McCall's Quilting, available nationwide and athttp://www.mccallsquilting.com , offered tips recently on the care of quilts. If quilts are displayed on cupboard shelves or stacked in an armoire, the shelves should be lined with acid-free paper, and the paper should be placed between each of the folds and between each quilt. The magazine also recommends periodically refolding quilts on display, so that permanent crease lines, which cause fragility and thread damage, don't develop. (More tips on care and cleaning of old and new quilts are available at the Web site.)
One of the 20th Century's greatest collectors, Henry Francis du Pont, loved quilts and acquired hundreds of them. He also was "a major destroyer of quilts," admits Linda Eaton, curator of textiles at his Delaware estate, Winterthur. The great antiquarian -- who like other wealthy collectors of his day used quilts primarily at his country home -- had old quilts cut apart for upholstering furniture, for curtains, bed hangings and other uses.
Though this practice is shocking to collectors and preservationists today, Eaton says, it was common practice in the early part of the 20th Century.Yet the reason du Pont loved quilts has not changed over the last century: They add warmth and design to one's home.
"I think he loved quilts for the color. Color was very important to him, and quilts are an important way to bring color into your interiors," says Eaton, author of "Quilts in a Material World" (Abrams, 208 pages, $40), and curator of Winterthur's recent quilt show.
"Now people put them in their fashionable New York apartments," Eaton says. "That has been the biggest change in attitudes toward quilts."